Dog wearing life jacket
It’s all fun at the beach until someone hauls out the life jackets, right? But really, the sporty new canine life jackets aren’t like the bulky, mattress-like vests you used to strap on when you were at camp. Now, it’s easy to find one that’s not only comfortable for your dog but provides extra buoyancy to help prevent him from getting overly fatigued.

Still, the best thing about having your dog wear a life jacket is that it really could help prevent a tragedy.

Better Safe Than Sorry

While there are no reliable statistics on the number of dogs that drown each year, the human statistics are sobering enough. According to the United States Coast Guard, drowning is the leading cause of death in boating accidents, accounting for 77 percent of boating fatalities. In most of these cases, the victim went into the water unexpectedly. More than 80 percent were not wearing a life jacket, a tragic oversight that could have saved many of them.

It’s easy to see how a dog could leap off a boat after a duck or lose his footing when the boat is rocked by the wake of another boat. And you can’t assume that your dog will be able to swim his way out of it. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most boating accident victims actually know how to swim, but they may be injured or unconscious or can suffer from exhaustion or hypothermia — all potential risks for your dog as well.

Of course, water accidents aren’t limited to boating. They can happen while swimming in rivers, lakes and even the family pool.

What to Look for In a Life Jacket

First, a word of caution: Even with the best-designed life jackets, some dogs may be better off on shore. Flat-nosed, barrel-chested dogs with short legs, such as Bulldogs and Pugs, generally aren’t built for swimming and can easily suffer heat exhaustion in the blazing sun. And dogs with epilepsy or a history of seizures are probably safer playing Frisbee on the beach. Dogs with cardiac or respiratory disease are probably best staying on dry land, too. If you aren’t sure whether or not swimming is a safe activity for your dog for any reason, check with your vet before hitting the water.

But if you have a healthy dog who can’t wait to get his paws wet, here are some features that can help you find the vest that’s right for him:

  • Fit — Look for a snug yet comfortable fit that provides good range of motion for the neck and legs without chafing anywhere.
  • Top handle(s) — These should be durable enough to enable you to lift your dog into the boat or onto a dock.
  • Leash attachment loop — If you’re not able to lift your dog out of the water yourself or if there’s a strong current nearby, clipping on a leash might help keep him nearby until you can get more help.
  • Bright colors — Choose eye-catching tones over fashionable prints to give your dog more visibility to boaters, water skiers and windsurfers.
  • Reflective strips — Again, these help provide more visibility if you plan on splashing in the water after the sun sets.
  • Front flotation pad — Located under the dog’s chin, this pad is designed to help keep your dog’s head above water if he’s incapacitated.
  • Abdominal floatation material — Rather than simple straps, some life jackets include extra floatation material under the belly, which may provide some dogs with extra buoyancy.
When you get down to it, a life jacket helps safeguard your dog so he can have more dock-diving, dog-paddling, boating fun with you all summer long.

Come to think of it, maybe you owe it to him to wear a life jacket, too!

More on Vetstreet: